The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 1

Easter at Saint–Cloud.

The French Monarchy may now therefore be considered as, in all human probability, lost; as struggling henceforth in blindness as well as weakness, the last light of reasonable guidance having gone out. What remains of resources their poor Majesties will waste still further, in uncertain loitering and wavering. Mirabeau himself had to complain that they only gave him half confidence, and always had some plan within his plan. Had they fled frankly with him, to Rouen or anywhither, long ago! They may fly now with chance immeasurably lessened; which will go on lessening towards absolute zero. Decide, O Queen; poor Louis can decide nothing: execute this Flight-project, or at least abandon it. Correspondence with Bouille there has been enough; what profits consulting, and hypothesis, while all around is in fierce activity of practice? The Rustic sits waiting till the river run dry: alas with you it is not a common river, but a Nile Inundation; snow melting in the unseen mountains; till all, and you where you sit, be submerged.

Many things invite to flight. The voice Journals invites; Royalist Journals proudly hinting it as a threat, Patriot Journals rabidly denouncing it as a terror. Mother Society, waxing more and more emphatic, invites; — so emphatic that, as was prophesied, Lafayette and your limited Patriots have ere long to branch off from her, and form themselves into Feuillans; with infinite public controversy; the victory in which, doubtful though it look, will remain with the unlimited Mother. Moreover, ever since the Day of Poniards, we have seen unlimited Patriotism openly equipping itself with arms. Citizens denied ‘activity,’ which is facetiously made to signify a certain weight of purse, cannot buy blue uniforms, and be Guardsmen; but man is greater than blue cloth; man can fight, if need be, in multiform cloth, or even almost without cloth — as Sansculotte. So Pikes continued to be hammered, whether those Dirks of improved structure with barbs be ‘meant for the West–India market,’ or not meant. Men beat, the wrong way, their ploughshares into swords. Is there not what we may call an ‘Austrian Committee,’ Comite Autrichein, sitting daily and nightly in the Tuileries? Patriotism, by vision and suspicion, knows it too well! If the King fly, will there not be Aristocrat–Austrian Invasion; butchery, replacement of Feudalism; wars more than civil? The hearts of men are saddened and maddened.

Dissident Priests likewise give trouble enough. Expelled from their Parish Churches, where Constitutional Priests, elected by the Public, have replaced them, these unhappy persons resort to Convents of Nuns, or other such receptacles; and there, on Sabbath, collecting assemblages of Anti–Constitutional individuals, who have grown devout all on a sudden, (Toulongeon, i. 262.) they worship or pretend to worship in their strait-laced contumacious manner; to the scandal of Patriotism. Dissident Priests, passing along with their sacred wafer for the dying, seem wishful to be massacred in the streets; wherein Patriotism will not gratify them. Slighter palm of martyrdom, however, shall not be denied: martyrdom not of massacre, yet of fustigation. At the refractory places of worship, Patriot men appear; Patriot women with strong hazel wands, which they apply. Shut thy eyes, O Reader; see not this misery, peculiar to these later times, — of martyrdom without sincerity, with only cant and contumacy! A dead Catholic Church is not allowed to lie dead; no, it is galvanised into the detestablest death-life; whereat Humanity, we say, shuts its eyes. For the Patriot women take their hazel wands, and fustigate, amid laughter of bystanders, with alacrity: broad bottom of Priests; alas, Nuns too reversed, and cotillons retrousses! The National Guard does what it can: Municipality ‘invokes the Principles of Toleration;’ grants Dissident worshippers the Church of the Theatins; promising protection. But it is to no purpose: at the door of that Theatins Church, appears a Placard, and suspended atop, like Plebeian Consular fasces, — a Bundle of Rods! The Principles of Toleration must do the best they may: but no Dissident man shall worship contumaciously; there is a Plebiscitum to that effect; which, though unspoken, is like the laws of the Medes and Persians. Dissident contumacious Priests ought not to be harboured, even in private, by any man: the Club of the Cordeliers openly denounces Majesty himself as doing it. (Newspapers of April and June, 1791 (in Hist. Parl. ix. 449; x, 217).)

Many things invite to flight: but probably this thing above all others, that it has become impossible! On the 15th of April, notice is given that his Majesty, who has suffered much from catarrh lately, will enjoy the Spring weather, for a few days, at Saint–Cloud. Out at Saint–Cloud? Wishing to celebrate his Easter, his Paques, or Pasch, there; with refractory Anti–Constitutional Dissidents? — Wishing rather to make off for Compiegne, and thence to the Frontiers? As were, in good sooth, perhaps feasible, or would once have been; nothing but some two chasseurs attending you; chasseurs easily corrupted! It is a pleasant possibility, execute it or not. Men say there are thirty thousand Chevaliers of the Poniard lurking in the woods there: lurking in the woods, and thirty thousand, — for the human Imagination is not fettered. But now, how easily might these, dashing out on Lafayette, snatch off the Hereditary Representative; and roll away with him, after the manner of a whirlblast, whither they listed! — Enough, it were well the King did not go. Lafayette is forewarned and forearmed: but, indeed, is the risk his only; or his and all France’s?

Monday the eighteenth of April is come; the Easter Journey to Saint–Cloud shall take effect. National Guard has got its orders; a First Division, as Advanced Guard, has even marched, and probably arrived. His Majesty’s Maison-bouche, they say, is all busy stewing and frying at Saint–Cloud; the King’s Dinner not far from ready there. About one o’clock, the Royal Carriage, with its eight royal blacks, shoots stately into the Place du Carrousel; draws up to receive its royal burden. But hark! From the neighbouring Church of Saint–Roch, the tocsin begins ding-donging. Is the King stolen then; he is going; gone? Multitudes of persons crowd the Carrousel: the Royal Carriage still stands there; — and, by Heaven’s strength, shall stand!

Lafayette comes up, with aide-de-camps and oratory; pervading the groups: “Taisez vous,” answer the groups, “the King shall not go.” Monsieur appears, at an upper window: ten thousand voices bray and shriek, “Nous ne voulons pas que le Roi parte.” Their Majesties have mounted. Crack go the whips; but twenty Patriot arms have seized each of the eight bridles: there is rearing, rocking, vociferation; not the smallest headway. In vain does Lafayette fret, indignant; and perorate and strive: Patriots in the passion of terror, bellow round the Royal Carriage; it is one bellowing sea of Patriot terror run frantic. Will Royalty fly off towards Austria; like a lit rocket, towards endless Conflagration of Civil War? Stop it, ye Patriots, in the name of Heaven! Rude voices passionately apostrophise Royalty itself. Usher Campan, and other the like official persons, pressing forward with help or advice, are clutched by the sashes, and hurled and whirled, in a confused perilous manner; so that her Majesty has to plead passionately from the carriage-window.

Order cannot be heard, cannot be followed; National Guards know not how to act. Centre Grenadiers, of the Observatoire Battalion, are there; not on duty; alas, in quasi-mutiny; speaking rude disobedient words; threatening the mounted Guards with sharp shot if they hurt the people. Lafayette mounts and dismounts; runs haranguing, panting; on the verge of despair. For an hour and three-quarters; ‘seven quarters of an hour,’ by the Tuileries Clock! Desperate Lafayette will open a passage, were it by the cannon’s mouth, if his Majesty will order. Their Majesties, counselled to it by Royalist friends, by Patriot foes, dismount; and retire in, with heavy indignant heart; giving up the enterprise. Maison-bouche may eat that cooked dinner themselves; his Majesty shall not see Saint–Cloud this day, — or any day. (Deux Amis, vi. c. 1; Hist. Parl. ix. 407–14.)

The pathetic fable of imprisonment in one’s own Palace has become a sad fact, then? Majesty complains to Assembly; Municipality deliberates, proposes to petition or address; Sections respond with sullen brevity of negation. Lafayette flings down his Commission; appears in civic pepper-and-salt frock; and cannot be flattered back again; — not in less than three days; and by unheard-of entreaty; National Guards kneeling to him, and declaring that it is not sycophancy, that they are free men kneeling here to the Statue of Liberty. For the rest, those Centre Grenadiers of the Observatoire are disbanded, — yet indeed are reinlisted, all but fourteen, under a new name, and with new quarters. The King must keep his Easter in Paris: meditating much on this singular posture of things: but as good as determined now to fly from it, desire being whetted by difficulty.

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Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:30